What is Forgiveness and What Can it Offer You?

Forgiveness is a great human need and the first person I need to forgive is me.

Every time I walk by a homeless person or get annoyed with a task at work or when I judge someone harshly.

You probably think then I’m the last person who should be writing about forgiveness, but as I review the past few years of my life, I still haven’t mastered the art, or the power, of forgiveness.

We often consider forgiveness a religious matter, but forgiveness is a vital remedy to some of life’s troubles regardless of your beliefs.

I recently vented my ire at some of the Freemasons who attend my church, and while my protest through absence has been longer than planned due to COVID lockdowns, I still haven’t found it in myself to forgive.

Forgiveness is open to misinterpretation.

More often than not, we tend to think that forgiveness is for the benefit of others, but we need to begin with ourselves, if only for our peace.

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is letting go of hurt and hurtful thoughts.

You may hold negative feelings toward someone or a group of people, and with these thoughts over time comes the desire for revenge.

But when we forgive, we become revenge free. When we stop blaming, we start healing and can move on with our lives.

In a blog post no longer available, Andrew Pinsent provided insight into the origin of the word “forgive“.

The word “forgive” comes from an old English word forgiefan, which is itself made up of two words: giefan, meaning “give”, and for-, meaning “completely”. So the word forgiefan conveys the sense of giving completely.

Andrew Pinsent

Is Forgiveness for You?

Yes, both as the giver and receiver. It is probably one of the biggest things you can do to give yourself a break—a break from guilt or self-defeating thoughts.

Forgiveness Offers Perspective

There are no hard and fast rules about forgiveness, and how easily it is applied certainly depends on your circumstances. It might involve what appears to be trivial matters for some people, and for others, it could concern massive life-changing events — matters of life and death.

Therefore, while the general theme of forgiveness will be similar for most people, the depth of feelings involved, the strength required, and the desire to offer it will vary from person to person.

Forgiving someone because they forgot a birthday pales in comparison to a serious crime such as rape.

Who Do I Need to Forgive?

  • Children who bullied me every day in my early years.
  • The workman who slapped me across the face when I was playing on the building site.
  • An abusive bus driver.
  • An unfaithful fiancé.
  • The Freemasons who plotted to remove the Rector from my church.

Today I can make a public declaration.

I forgive them all.

But I’m no fool. I am not a preachy type who feels superior to others. I fully acknowledge we all need to receive forgiveness just as much as we need to give it.

Why Do I Need Forgiveness?

  • I insulted my late Dad during an argument about bedroom furniture.
  • I am not keeping in touch with friends.
  • My temper can sometimes show, especially with myself.
  • Letting family relationships slip.
  • I procrastinate on a range of matters.

Who Should You Forgive?

Forgive yourself.

Some of my examples are from the distant past, yet their memories are fresh because, up to now, I hadn’t let go.

I hadn’t got off my own back and allowed myself to leave those memories where they belong — in the distant past.

That’s not to say we should forget the lessons learned.

Part of becoming a happier person is learning from mistakes and moving on — not to dwell on events or allow them to influence decisions in the present.

But here is a word of caution.

To forgive yourself is not to shrug the shoulders and ignore your impact on others. It is not a licence to hurt with impunity, but it is an essential step to greater self-confidence.

Your circumstances will also influence your ability to forgive. Nobody else can determine who you should forgive. Friends can proffer advice, and beneficial that may be, only you can do the forgiving.

I can’t imagine how hard it would be to forgive someone for injuring a loved one or worse. All I know is to bottle up hatred and resentment for someone will undoubtedly have its toll on your longer-term outlook and wellbeing.

It is, however, easier said than done.

There is no panacea for life’s ills, but forgiveness might help to smooth some of the bumps.

Here’s one way to remember some critical aspects of forgiveness.

  • FOR — forwards; forgiveness helps us move forward, wedded less to past hurts.
  • GIVE — giving; understanding to others because they too make mistakes.
  • NE — negative thoughts; are released, helping us to think differently about life.
  • S — steps; on a journey because forgiveness is a process rather than an instant reaction.
  • S — strength; because forgiveness is empowering.

What Can Help Us Forgive?

  • Time — As time passes so our perspective can change. Strong feelings can subside, and we can look at situations from another person’s point of view.
  • Talking — Sitting down with a friend and discussing your difficulties can help to sort out mixed feelings.
  • Thinking Less — Sometimes, we can over-analyse situations and make them more complicated than they are.

Forgiveness doesn’t have to be about dealing with the aftermath of a significant event. It can be related to the simplest of things — something you said that upset someone or being annoyed about a grumpy work colleague.

Forgiveness can be good for your physical and mental health.

It creates a sense of confidence and reduces guilt about our inability to be perfect.

I should also say we need to forgive ourselves constantly if we want to find happiness.

I’ll end with an article dating back to 1999 by Fred Luskin. The article explains how forgiveness helps us cope with painful experiences and reduces behaviours that increase the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Psychotherapists … have written about the importance of forgiveness. Until recently, however, the scientific literature has not had much to say about the effect of forgiveness. While the scientific study of forgiveness is just beginning, the work so far demonstrates the power of forgiveness to heal emotional wounds and hints that forgiveness may play a role in physical healing as well.

What is intriguing about this research is that even people who are not depressed or particularly anxious can obtain improved emotional and psychological functioning from learning to forgive. The study suggests that forgiveness may enable people who are functioning adequately to feel even better. While the research is limited, a picture is emerging that forgiveness may be important not just as a religious practice but as a component of a comprehensive vision of health. Read more here…

Stanford Medicine Journal Summer 1999